Over 200 Chinese and Burmese traders face prison for evading junta's jade tax

Over 200 Chinese and Burmese traders face prison for evading junta's jade tax

At least 200 Chinese and Burmese jade traders and brokers recently arrested by junta security forces at locations in Mandalay were yesterday charged under the Myanmar Gemstone Law, local lawyers have said. 

Two houses in Maha Aung Myay and Aung Myay Tharzan townships were stormed by security forces on Dec. 20, with Mandalay-based media outlets putting the number of those detained at over 300. Motorcycles and other vehicles were also said to have been seized.

“Instead of physical trading, traders and brokers in town usually trade jade via WeChat accounts. This kind of business is usually conducted in Mandalay itself, since business in the Mandalay Jade Market is currently not good. As I heard, the group were arrested for illegal trading,” a jade broker in Mandalay told DVB. 

The bulk of those arrested appear to consist of Chinese jade traders and Burmese brokers who had failed to adhere to new orders by the militay council attempting to channel all transactions made on the precious stone through the Mandalay Jade Market, were authorities had recently cracked down on those failing to pay lucrative sales taxes to the junta.

All those detained are currently being held at Mandalay’s Obo prison. None are reported to have been released.

“One of my friends was arrested that day because they didn’t trade inside the permitted area. This is the second time that this kind of raid occurred; two months ago, some of the traders and brokers were arrested and freed after they paid two lakhs [US$110],” a local with links to Mandalay’s jade trade told DVB.

This time around, reports suggest that those arrested have been told they must pay authorities significantly more to obtain their release.

“At first, they said K1 million [US$550] but when we went to Obo yesterday they raised it to K2.5 million [US$1,100] each. If failing to pay, the detainees have been told they will go to trial and be charged under the Gemstone Law. At the moment, none of them are out,” the man said of his friend’s arrest. 

According to Mandalay lawyer Wai Phyo Mg Mg, all those taken from the Maha Aung Myay jade trading compound have since been charged under Section 51(B) and Section 54 of the Myanmar Gemstone Law—if convicted, violators face a maximum of three years imprisonment plus fines and the seizure of all gemstones retrieved by authorities in relation to the case.

Mandalay Jade Market is the world’s largest trading hub for the precious gem, of which Burma is said to produce 90% of all global supply. Local resistance forces had since the coup warned dealers and brokers to boycott the market, causing a substantial decline in transactions taxed by the junta. 

In response, locals said that security forces had threatened to shoot dead anyone found trading outside the market.

In June, human rights group Global Witness published a report suggesting that, even before the coup, between 70-90% of all jade mined in the Hpakant region is smuggled into China “without ever entering the formal system in Myanmar”.